If you’re getting warnings on your iPhone about AirTags that aren’t actually there, you’re not alone: Apple has confirmed that “phantom AirTag alerts” appear for some users, notifying them of trackers that aren’t actually there .
That’s according to a Wall Street Journal article, which says the bug shows straight red lines radiating from a user’s location – but then there’s no sign of the AirTag being reported. It’s unclear how many people have seen it, but Apple has acknowledged it’s happening.
Just a few days ago, an anti-harassment update was released for these wearable trackers, but this issue appears to predate that: the WSJ claims that the AirTag ghost bug affected users over the ” last few weeks”.
An Apple spokesperson told the WSJ that location services iPhones could be “temporarily confused” by Wi-Fi signals, and that AirTags belonging to other users could “inadvertently trigger unwanted alerts.” in densely populated areas.
There is at least a temporary solution for the first problem, which is to disable and then re-enable location services on the phone. If you open the iOS Settings screen on your iPhone, you’ll find the option under the Privacy menu.
At this time, we don’t know if a software patch will be needed to fix the problem permanently, but in the meantime, keep paying attention to AirTag alerts – don’t be surprised if you get one for a tracking device that cannot actually be found.
Analysis: an assessment for Apple
When you lose something with an AirTag attached, you can (anonymously and privately) enlist the help of every other iPhone on the planet to try and figure out where it is. AirTags don’t have a built-in location report, but they can connect to nearby iPhones.
This is a very useful feature, but it also means that these trackers can be marked as lost by their owners and then used to keep tabs on someone’s location (through their bag, car or coat, for example). It’s a problem for all Bluetooth trackers like this, but the ubiquity of iPhones – especially in the US – means it’s a particular problem for AirTags.
The solution deployed by Apple is to alert users when an AirTag that is not theirs is following them. Apple also released an Android app to do the same job on smartphones that aren’t iPhones.
It’s a necessary protection, but according to the new Wall Street Journal report, it seems that it is not always easy to detect the presence of an AirTag nearby, especially in crowded urban areas. It is reasonable to assume that the technology and associated algorithms will improve over time, making this problem a temporary issue.